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Health & Safety Best Practices

Emergency Action Plan

Program directors should take time to consider the potential crises that may impact a education abroad program, and how to respond appropriately.

Program directors should take the following steps to establish an effective emergency action plan:

  1. Discuss potential crises that may occur in your location and how to respond.
  2. Designate a primary and secondary emergency meeting place.
  3. Develop a communication plan with your students. Agree on how to check in during an emergency.
  4. Identify a student leader in case the program director is incapacitated or unavailable.
  5. Identify an additional on-site contact to the Office of Education Abroad if you are the only program director. 
  6. Assist students in identifying local emergency phone numbers and local media sources. 
  7. Enroll in the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and encourage students to do the same.
  8. Encourage students to check in with loved ones at home.

Responding to Incidents Abroad

  1. Confirm the safety and well-being of all education abroad program participants.
  2. Seek appropriate medical care and/or get to a safe location. If you or a education abroad participant needs emergency assistance, contact the local emergency authorities (PDF).
  3. Follow the advice of local authorities. Often this will include sheltering in place.
  4. If you need to communicate the well-being of your program, contact OIHS. If you need immediate help or guidance call the MSU 24/7 International Emergency Line at +1-517-353-3784.
  5. Implement any instructions given and communicate instructions to your education abroad program. Maintain communication with OIHS using phone, text, email, or social media as agreed upon.

In the event of a major incident, OIHS can assist with:

  • Accounting for students.
  • Responding to concerned parents.
  • Communicating with emergency contacts.
  • Updating MSU officials including the Office of Education Abroad.
  • Managing media inquiries.
  • Assessing the safety of your location for continued program presence.

In an emergency abroad your, primary responsibility is safeguarding the well-being of your participants. MSU will reimburse program directors for any expenses incurred as a result of an emergency.

Staying in Touch with Students and MSU

All program directors must travel with a working cell phone. The Office of Education Abroad will cover costs associated with carrying an international cell phone. This cell phone number should be shared with the Office of Education Abroad and with program participants. We suggest sharing this number with your students during pre-departure orientation and encouraging them to record the number on an "In Case of Emergency" wallet card.

Many students now travel abroad with a cell phone. Program directors should collect these cell phone numbers so that you know how to reach a student in the event of an emergency. You may want to establish a communication tree so that you are able to efficiently reach all students - including those who may not have a cell phone - in the event of an emergency. 

When a major security incident occurs, OIHS will often reach out to education abroad programs in the affected country to conduct an accountability check. You can help us by proactively reporting that your program is okay and unaffected by emailing us at oihs(at) If you require immediate assistance, call the MSU 24/7 International Emergency Line +1-517-353-3784. 

If you aren't sure if a local event constitutes a "major security incident" consider if you think it will make international headlines. If you aren't sure, err on the side of caution and get in touch.

Responding to Sexual Misconduct Abroad

The University Policy on Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM) stipulates that faculty and staff are mandatory reporters. If you learn that sexual misconduct - defined as sexual harassment, sexual violence, or sexual exploitation - has occurred on your education abroad program, you are required to report this to MSU. You may read more about mandatory reporting on the Office of Institutional Equity webpage.

You may report by calling the MSU 24/7 International Assistance Line (1-517-353-3784), and OIHS will then report to the MSU Police and the Office of Institutional Equity as required by the University RVSM policy.

Remember that a survivor may feel a variety of emotions after experiencing sexual misconduct. It is important that the survivor understands that what happened is not their fault. We encourage program directors to review our page on Sexual Misconduct & Study Abroad or the MSU Sexual Assault Program for information on how to support survivors. This handout on how to support a survivor may be particularly helpful.

Important Reminders

  • Automobile accidents are among the leading causes of non-natural deaths of U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Encourage your students to: practice good situational awareness when walking near busy streets, wear seat-belts when traveling by car, and only contract with reputable transportation companies. You may also want to review the U.S. Department of State webpage on road safety overseas.

  • Strongly encourage your students to employ the buddy system, especially when going out at night. Suggest a “leave no one behind” approach to keeping each other safe.

  • Program directors cannot initiate direct communication with a student's parent without permission. Instead program directors should encourage students to communicate directly with their parents. Note that OIHS or OSA may initiate contact with a student's designated emergency contact person in the event of an emergency.

  • MSU has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, manufacture, production, sale, exchange or distribution of illegal drugs by students participating in MSU education abroad programs.

  • Students who are of legal drinking age in their program location may consume alcohol if they do so responsibly. Alcohol misuse  cannot be tolerated.

  • MSU expects students to abide by the Statement of Responsibility they signed when they applied to the education abroad program. Any violations to this Statement of Responsibility should be addressed appropriately. Program directors are encouraged to contact OIHS for assistance and guidance.

  • Refrain from offering medical advice to students. Instead, assist the student in obtaining medical care. If you require assistance identifying a local health care provider, contact International SOS at +1-215-942-8478.

  • Like students, program directors and program assistants are automatically covered by International SOS provided international health insurance coverage. Note that coverage does not extend to spouses or other accompanying family members. Please review the Office of Education Abroad guidelines on accompanying family members.

Emergency Assistance

If you are abroad and need emergency assistance call the International SOS 24/7 Scholastic Assistance Line at +1-215-942-8478 or the MSU 24/7 International Emergency Line at +1-517-353-3784.

Click here for more information on MSU emergency assistance.